Science in Christian Perspective




Table of Contents

Darwin's Vision and Christian Perspectives. Edited by Walter J. Ong, S.J. New York: The Macmillan Co. 1960.
Natural Law and Divine Miracle, by R. Hooykaas; E. J. Brill Publication, Leiden, Netherlands. 1959.
The Firmament of Time, by Loren Eiseley, New York; Atheneum; 1960; 184 pp.
The Molecular Basis of Evolution, by Christian B. Anfinsen; John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York, 1959; 228 pp. $7.00.

Darwin's Vision and Christian Perspectives. Edited by Walter J. Ong, S.J. New York: The Macmillan Co. 1960.

Reviewed by R. L. Mixter, Professor of Zoology, Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois.

The Roman Catholic Church has analyzed its beliefs regarding evolution in this volume by professors at Fordam and St. Louis Universities. The impacts upon biology, philosophy, American economic history, and theology are noted from Darwin's time until the present.

In the introduction, Walter Ong comments that "evolution is a term which can still disconcert or hypnotize" but the authors conclude that all the transformations which the biological evolutionists have indicated may be accepted if one believes that "human souls are immediately created by God." "If we accept the fact that the human came into being at the end of a series of sudden mutations directed to this end by the Creator God, then these changes reveal God's providence throughout."

Alexander Wolsky mentions that biologists face a new difficulty: "a certain complacent belief that owing to the neo-Darwinian synthesis evolutionary biology has solved its main problems and that all that remains to be done is to work out a few minor details" but he is confident that this attitude will pass as new research is done. ". . . there are serious objections to the view that Darwin's principle of natural selection acting on numerous small hereditary variations (micromutations) has all the answers . . ." so the writer quotes with approval the work of Goldschmidt and Schindewolf who hold to sudden "outbursts" of macroevolutionary changes followed by smooth "orthogenetic" microevolution.

The longest chapter of 70 pages on Darwin's impact on philosophy will be appreciated by philosophers even more than by us biologists who may be somewhat deficient in our ability to comprehend philosophical terminology. Treating both Thomas and Julian Huxley, Spencer, Wright, Pierce, and Dewey among others, the author James Collins shows the variety of philosophical responses that have been evoked by the evolutionary findings in biology. But evolutionary philosophy alone is insufficient. "In addition, however, the philosophical inquirer must bring to bear some other human resources which may not figure as components in some prevailing evolutionary position."

In considering theology Robert Gleason writes, "While all theologians agree that history is expressed in the assertions of Genesis, nevertheless today they admit that it is a peculiar type of history whose rules are still partly unknown to us." The "dust" from which Adam was made may refer "to organic matter oriented by God through a long process."

You will be interested in Vincent Hopkins' account of how evolutionary philosophy was used by power magnates in the United States to carry out their schemes.

The final chapter on "Evolution and Cyclicism in Our Time" by Walter Ong concludes that the universe is not eternal and undergoing cycles . . . "but the universe is created in one state and at the end of time will somehow be transfigured different from what it has been." Man is the culmination of the products of time. "Against the backdrop of the infrahuman universe which has given him birth, man remains more impressive than the rest of the universe. For he, as nothing before him, reallv includes it all. It comes to life and fruition in 1~im." "Against this backdrop the Incarnation took place."

This Protestant reviewer wonders why it is said that the evolutionary "theory also mirrored the kind of competition which was common in a world in the throes of the industrial revolution, dominated by the Protestant ethic. . . ." However, he received stimulating ideas from this clear and forcefully written symposium.

Natural Law and Divine Miracle, by R. Hooykaas; E. J. Brill Publication, Leiden, Netherlands. 1959.

Reviewed by Raymond H. Brand, Assistant Professor of Biology, Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois.

Fortunately for the reader with a hierarchy of values as to what to read next, the subtitle of this small volume delineates a precise area of consideration. Hooykaas wisely narrows his broad and general topic to "A Historical-Critical Study of the Principle of Uniformity in Geology, Biology, and Theology." The scientist will appreciate this attempt at integration by a professor of the history of science, since it presents issues clearly from a perspective that includes an understanding of the limitations and usefulness of the scientific method. Perhaps most readers would agree that the "historical" outweighs the "critical," but over-all balance is achieved as the principle of uniformity is skillfully traced through the disciplines of geology and biology. The latter sections of the book concerned with philosophy and theology indicate the influence of metaphysics and religious beliefs upon the principle of uniformity. The avowed objective methodological basis, upon which the scientist claims to frame his hypotheses, is shown to often reflect current opinion or long standing a priori convictions.

Historical characters are portrayed in a refreshing style which records the vivid interplay of personalities who are engaged in vital struggle over controversial issues. Often this takes the form of personal communication between such notables as Charles Darwin, Asa Gray, Charles Lyell, and William Whewell. The following brief quote (p. 115) from one of Lyell's letters to Darwin illustrates the dynamic of this style. "I cannot admit that my leap at p. 505, which makes you 'groan,' is more than a legitimate deduction from 'the thing that is' applied to'the thing that has been' as Asa Gray would say, and I have only put it moderately, and as a speculation." The leap in question here was one that is quite relevant today. Lyell could not accept Darwin's theory for the total explanation of man. Rather, he believed that man's moral nature was not subject to the principles of the physical world and thus for him uniformity was not dethroned despite the obvious fact of the uniqueness of man. A sampling of others mentioned in the book might include: Hutton, Lamarck, Cuvier, Buckland, Sedgwick, Chambers, T. H. Huxley, Pascal, Schindewolf, Goldschmidt, Simpson, and Dobzhansky. The author is to be commended for restricting discussion to those attitudes and opinions of the above men on the topic of uniformity or closely related concepts.

Early in the development of the section on geology the boundaries are marked off (and later erased) between strict uniformity on the one hand and catastrophe on the other. The meaning of Hutton's adage "the present is the key to the past" has apparently undergone as many shifts as the crust of the earth itself. If nature is not strictly uniform in certain processes perhaps the rate of the process is. Again, if rates bow down to certain stubborn facts, "cyclic events of regularity" are put forth to save this all-important methodological (and philosophical) foundation underlying modern scientific research. A word of caution is inserted to theory-holders in suggesting that "it would be preferable to follow nature instead of torturing facts in order to force them into a preconceived scheme." In the same vein and later on in the book the scientist is reminded rather forcibly that perhaps the function of a scientific theory is to account for the data available and not to introduce suppositions in order to save theories.

Turning from geological considerations the adherents of uniformity then discover biological difficulties in saltations or major leaps (or gaps) in the fossil record. Darwin and later neoDarwinians have consistently opposed saltations. Such gaps (representing negative evidence) are assumed to gradually close as more fossil remains are uncovered and studied. From a Christian biologist's viewpoint this section on the modern controversy about saltatory evolution is most significant. Seldom have the crucial issues of evolution been placed in such clear juxtaposition. Schindewolf maintains, "that an experimental basis of phylogenetics is impossible. The real course of evolution belongs to paleontology and not to genetics." Further statements (p. 126) point out that experimental genetics can only suggest "possible" mechanisms' not the "only" possible one, and not necessarily that one chosen by nature. Empirically, the saltationists seem to have the edge since they start with facts (i.e., glaring and rather numerous gaps). Micromutationists, such as Simpson, counter with a few orthogenetic graded fossil series within some groups. Upon this scanty evidence the objective scientist is then request~d to extrapolate to a general continuity of change in a climate of a priori belief that has already concluded that gaps are unreal. Hooykaas points out that although viable macrosaltations have never been observed, the end result of observed micromutations to large transformations is likewise unconfirmed by direct observation. In defense of orthodox evolutionists, Simpson argues that where gaps exist the population was likely small and the rate of evolution high. (That nonuniform evolutionary rates are essential is pointedly illustrated by Simpson's statement that the origin of the bat's wing from a normal mammalian hand would have had to take place before the earth existed!)

Perhaps a major contribution of this book is the clear conception it presents of the principle of uniformity. The author's position on various issues is generally obscured (and perhaps rightly so), but his very mention and discussion of saltations probably assigns him a place among a much-needed vocal minority in opposition to the overwhelming tide of convinced micromutationists.

A delightful yet humbling epilogue of selected verses from the Book of job appears to the reader who now thinks he knows all (e.g., job 38:4 . . . Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding).

Much more could be said but interested theologians and scientists are urged to read about these lively issues for themselves. In conclusion, I can only voice my approval of a plea similar to that of von Hoff (p. 8) that loose speculation be avoided and the framing of hypotheses be restricted to those phenomena capable of scientific investigation.


The Firmament of Time, by Loren Eiseley, New York; Atheneum; 1960; 184 pp.

Reviewed by J. Frank Cassel, Professor of Biology, North Dakota State University, Fargo, North Dakota.

Originally given as a series of lectures at the University of Cincinnati by one of the University of Pennsylvania's outstanding anthropologists, these essays probe the meaning of nature. As I read, I reacted. And these are my reactions essentially as I jotted them down at the conclusion of each chapter. Can we of A.S.A. meet this challenge?

1. How the World Became Natural. The general history of evolutionary thought is viewed from our modern scientific perspective, with the caution against falling into the tenor of the time. Eiseley, like many other modern scientific philosophers, fails to distinguish, however, between scientific and religious dogma-and truth. If indeed modern science comes closer to delineating reality than did the 17th and 18th century savants, then is it simply the dying gasp of a capitulating religionist who says, "Well, that's the way God did it"? Why is it conti~nually assumed that the better we understand the machine the more remote becomes the Machinist, even if the machine be a perpetual motion machine?

11. How Death Became Natural. Looking on myself from the modern perspective, I had never thought of the problem extinction might be to the concept of the fixity of species. It is with this Eiseley here deals, being so caught up with the sheer magnificence of an idea that his prose in spots is poetry, and one feels as well as understands the force of ideas in time. Is this revelation?

111. How Life Became Natural. He's caught me in his web as he moves up to Darwin, although thoughts here really don't seem to hang together as well. Hot on the heels of extinction comes the concept of natural selection through the struggle for existence. Some little-known sources of such ideas are probed-we find that before a Malthus there's a Brilckner, before a Lyell a Hatton, and before a Darwin a Blyth.

IV. How Man Became Natural. Moving into his own field, Eiseley traces in the broadest of terms the import of certain fossil finds-the isolated Neanderthalians, and the African ape~men identified here only by their discoverers, Dart and Leakey. He reflects his anthropologist's bias by accepting man as "the toolmaker." He traces in this chapter not so much the history of thought as of his own upon these fossils.

V. How Human Is Man? In a startling switch Eiseley probes into natural man to find a "within" and a "without" and with great force and concern deplores the neglect of the "within" by modern "asphalt man." Only when man faces his responsibility to resist the "whirlpool" of the modern world, and acts in love welling from his unique soul does he become "truly human."

VI. How Natural Is Natural? But, he concludes, man, the "toolmaker," is not enough. As we consider time, both past and future, we find that by our dim comprehension we have transcended it and begin to grasp the miracle of life itself-and of man. "He stands at the point where the miraculous comes into being, and after the event he calls it natural.' The imagination of man in its highest manifestation, stands close to the doorway of the infinite, to the world beyond the nature that we know" (p. 179). But Eiseley, it seems, never really sees the Infinite, nor quite conceives that He visits the son of man.

Herein lies our challenge-in bonds of understanding and love, to answer with depth, majesty, and true reverence the soul's cry of every Eiseleyand to show that hope lies not in what man is, nor even in what God makes of him-but in God Himself-because of the One who gave the "despairing cry from the dark shadow of a cross on Golgotha long ago" (p. 180). Would God we may give the answer with the same probing poignancy that graces the question.

The Molecular Basis of Evolution, by Christian B. Anfinsen; John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York, 1959; 228 pp. $7.00.

Reviewed by Walter R. Hearn, Associate Professor of Biochemistry, Iowa State University, Ames.

My enthusiasm about this book dates from the time the publisher sent me a prepublication copy of the preface and asked for my comments on the need for a book with this point of view. After browsing through it at the Wiley booth at a scientific meeting soon after its publication, I have been recommending it highly to A.S.A. members and others interested in current trends of evolutionary thought. Recently I sat down and read every word of it carefully while preparing some lectures on biochemical aspects of evolution, and now I find that my attitude toward the book has changed somewhat. Perhaps I expected too much and feel disappointed because on careful reading it failed to come up to my expectations.

The subject matter dealt with is extremely complicated, but I found the style of writing to~ technical for a good popularization and too, sketchy for a satisfying technical work. The author is a biochemist who has distinguished himself by leading a research group at the National Institutes of Health in a highly successful attack on the primary structures of proteins. Essentially the entire covalent structure of the enzyme ribonuclease, a polypeptide chain of 124 amino acids with four disulfide cross-links holding it in a particular looped arrangement, is now known through the work of Anfinsen's group and another group at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research. The part of the book describing the ribonuclease work as an example of elucidation of protein structures is excellent, as one might expect. The general theme of the book is that knowledge of the fine structure of proteins, especially of differences in homologous proteins between species or mutant strains, plus modern methods of "gene mapping" are paving the way for a real understanding of the mechanisms of evolution right down at the molecular level. In the preface the author implies that he asked himself what we should do next if we want to shed some light on evolution with these new tools of protein chemistry and genetics, and that The Molecular Basis of Evolution is his "highly personal" answer. Having had to go through a process of self-education in genetics in order to lay his own long-range research plans, he is sharing with the reader what has been "both a revelation and a struggle." Unfortunately, too much of the struggle has been communicated and not enough of the revelation!

Modern genetics, such as the bacteriophage work of Seymour Benzer, is extremely hard to follow even when reading the complete account in a research paper or detailed review; when Anfinsen explains Benzer's work he does so sketchily and it becomes even worse. Furthermore, he seems to realize that readers will be confused, and even expects them to be, as shown in a comment on p. 27: "It is to be hoped that the foregoing discussion of the simplest elements of genetics will be sufficiently irritating in its compactness (and incompleteness) to cause some readers of this book to look into a few of the volumes listed at the end of this chapter." That hope was fulfilled in my case, anyway. However; I do find the book stimulating as well as irritating, and still recommend it. Biochemists, for whom it was written, will get some ideas for research from it, and others should take a look at it to see what is going on in biochemical genetics. I mean that literally: Take a look at this one. Then sit down and read a good review on amino acid sequence studies and one of the books suggested by Anfinsen "for further reading" at the end of almost every chapter: The Chemical Basis of Heredity, edited by W. D. McElroy and B. Glass, Johns Hopkins Press, Baltimore, 1957. That one manages to be stimulating without being irritating, and at less than half the cost per page (864 pp., $12.00).