Science in Christian Perspective



Table of Contents
Protestant Thought and Natural Science, by John Dillenberger, 310 pages, $4.50, Doubleday & Co. 1960. Reviewed by 1. W. Knobloch
Darwin and the Modern World View, by John C. Greene, Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, 1961. 141 pp.; $3.50.

Protestant Thought and Natural Science, by John Dillenberger, 310 pages, $4.50, Doubleday & Co. 1960. Reviewed by 1. W. Knobloch,

This is a very fine book with detailed analyses of movements and men but the details are restricted, with few exceptions, to non-scientists, to Lutherans and to members of the Reformed Churches. Thus it cannot be a complete analysis of the situation as the title might indicate. Luther, Calvin, Barth and Tillich are given very adequate coverage. There are many others mentioned, however, whose ideas I found more invigorating than any of the four mentioned above.

I shall not attempt to separate Dillenberger's ideas from those he quotes but simply mention a few novelties in the book to acquaint the reader with its ideas and possibly whet his mental appetite. One of these ideas (old to most people) is that if there is life on other planets, would this not demand innumerable crucifixtions? My personal reaction to this was that this might not be so unless other planets' inhabitants possessed the conditions of choice and free will that our ancestors did. Or if they had free will, possibly they had more will power than Adam and Eve. Another idea concerned itself with miracles. A common belief is that miracles produce faith, but the reverse is true, according to Dillenberger. My belief on this is that both sequences are not only possible but no doubt have occurred. A third bit of gossip concerns Luther's belief that not all the passages and books of the Bible were on the same plane and that some were more reliable than others. The infallibility angle was not introduced by either Luther or Calvin but by their more zealous (?) followers. He mentions that Luther is credited with an attack upon the Copernican Theory but that Luther may not have written this himself. I believe that historians of theology will find the book interesting.


Darwin and the Modern World View, by John C. Greene, Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, 1961. 141 pp.; $3.50.

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

This book contains the substance of the three Rockwell Lectures given at Rice University in the Spring of 1960, by Iowa State University's Professor of the history of science. Dr. Greene's recent book on the history of evolution and its impact on Western thought, The Death of Adam, first published by the Iowa State Press and now available also as a ninety-five cent Mentor paperback, has already been recommended to readers of this journal (March 1960) by the present reviewer. Still writing as a historian of ideas, Greene now turns from the impact of Darwin on the natural sciences to his impact on theology and the social sciences. He identifies three overlapping phases in the modern conflict between science and religion: challenge to belief in the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible; second, challenge to the doctrine of creation; and currently, the question of the adequacy of scientific methods in the study of nun and society. "All three phases of the conflict are stiff very maich with us, the intensity of each phase varying in different regions of the country and on different educational levels. Darwin was not the sole, or even the chief, cause of the debates which raged, and still rage, around these issues, but his writings have been of major importance in them.

The chapter on "Darwin and the Bible" is-particularly pertinent to discussion among members of the American Scientific Affiliation about interpretation of Scripture. It is good for us to see what conclusion a historian comes to after reading the A. S. A.'s Evolution and Christian Thought Today: "As science advances, the maintenance of what these writers call 'verbal inspiration' is likely to prove possible only by continual reinterpretation of the Bible. In the long run, perpetual reinterpretation may prove more subversive of the authority of Scripture than would a frank recognition of the limitations of traditional doctrines." Although his own theological position is not explicitly stated in the book, the author's concern to maintain "the authority of Scripture" in some form or other can be seen in his sympathetic treatment of the theological controversy over the doctrine of absolute inerrancy. He examines the development of the Roman Catholic position, the modernist-fundamentalist clash, and finally the "rethinking" that has gained momentum in such diverse camps as Anglicanism, neo-orthodoxy, and postmodernist liberalism. The emerging concept that revelation is not a body of propositions supernaturally communicated, but rather a series of events in which God disclosed Himself by His action in history is apparently adequate to the author; I must admit that his statement concerning this position is satisfying to this reviewer: "The Bible, then, is divinely inspired in the sense that God illuminated the minds of the authors of Scripture, enabling them to respond to His self-disclosure in the events, but thoroughly human in that this illumination did not overcome the limitations of finite, historically-conditioned minds and temperaments." Perhaps if he had said "did not completely overcome" these limitations, the statement would be acceptable to most of us in A. S. A. The concluding sentence of the chapter indicates that neither Darwinian ideas nor higher criticism can undermine this kind of authority of the Scriptures: "Science and scholarship may influence conceptions of revelation and inspiration, but they cannot resolve the question whether the Bible is in truth what believers say it is, a record of God's self-disclosure in history."

In the chapter on "Darwin and Natural Theology" Greene observes that "physicotheology" based on a static world view and typified by the writings of John Ray (1691) and William Paley (1802) was rendered obsolete by Darwin's coup de grace. He then examines some post-Darwinian natural theologies-those of a typical protestant modernist, of various neo-orthodox writers, and of Roman Catholic scholars. Modern biologists and paleontologists who object to theistic interpretations of evolution are then taken to task for inconsistently allowing teleological expressions to occur in the midst of their scientific writings. Julian Huxley is criticized in particular, but without malice or sarcasm. The sympathetic attitude of Dr. Greene toward the dilemma of anti-theistic evolutionists is as obvious and as welcome to this reviewer as his sympathetic treatment of the problems of fundamentalist theologians. This is the kind of book that heals wounds and builds bridges of understanding. Can it be, the author asks, that the persistence in current evolutionary writing of a teleological vocabulary, plainly at odds with the philosophical beliefs of most biologists, suggests that they sense a creative element or ground in the evolutionary process, however much their philosophical preconceptions may dispose them to deny its reality?

Finally, in the chapter on "Darwin and Social Science" the difficulties that a reductionary scientific outlook gets into when man is the object of study are clearly brought out, and Darwin is charged with contributing to misconceptions "whose evil effects we still combat." The specific charges are these: Darwin reinforced Herbert Spencer's emphasis on competition as the source of social progress; he minimized the differences between man and animals; he encouraged the idea that the methods of natural science are fully adequate to the study of human nature and society; he ignored "the moral ambiguity of progress" and allowed himself to think that science could support itself without philosophy and religion. In spite of these charges, Professor Greene feels that Darwin deserves a place among the few greatest contributors to human knowledge although his scientific work could settle nothing in either philosophy or theology. In the brief concluding chapter die reason for this failure is explained by the relation of science to world view: "A scientist is a person seeking insight into the harmony of things. The harmony and the human spirit seeking to comprehend it are there first. They are pre-scientific. Darwin seems never to have grasped the implications of this fact. He had profound intuition of the harmony of nature, of her 'endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful,' but he distrusted his intuitions. He distrusted them, his autobiography shows, because he feared that they could be explained scientifically as holdovers from man's animal past. Having doubted the reality of spirit, he suffered the spiritual consequences of his doubt. There is no escape from reality, least of all from spiritual reality."

This is at least the second book by an "outside observer" to mention the American Scientific Affiliation specifically, the other being Religious Beliefs of American Scientists by Edward LeRoy Long, Jr., published in 1952 by The Westminster Press of Philadelphia. Long devoted an entire short chapter to the A. S. A., discussing Modern Science and Christian Faith and taking a critical look at the abstracts of papers given at our 1949 annual meeting. He observed an apparent difference in approach among two groups within the A. S. A., one group being concerned about deeper problems of science and faith, the other group concentrating on peripheral issues. Ten years later, John Greene recognizes the wide variety of opinion with respect to evolution and its bearing on the Bible expressed by the authors of Evolution and Christian Thought Today, and concludes that "even fundamentalism has not been as monolithic and impervious to change as most people think." "The verbal inspiration of Scripture is still maintained, but interpretation within this framework allows for a limited amount of organic development and even for a general evolutionism in some cases." It is unfortunate, in the opinion of this reviewer, that all of our own members are not pleased to see a diversity of interpretation within our doctrinal framework. Specifically, I was disappointed to see The Genesis Flood by Henry M. Morris and John C. Whitcomb, Jr. (Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., Philadelphia, 1961) written from a narrow and argumentative viewpoint. I happen to disagree with the conclusions of Morris and Whitcomb on almost every point bearing on my own field of study; however, the polemic style of their book I find much more disturbing than the fact that in my opinion they are basically wrong. The implication in their introduction that those who disagree with their interpretation do so primarily out of intellectual and moral pride is hardly conducive to open-minded discussion of the issues!