Science in Christian Perspective

Book Reviews

JASA Book Reviews for June 1968

Table of Contents

FAITH AND THE PHYSICAL WORLD: A COMPREHENSIVE VIEW, David L. Dye, Eerdmans, 1966, 214 pages.
THE CASE FOR CREATION, Wayne Frair and P. William Davis. A Christian Forum Book, Moody Press, Chicago, 1967. 96 pp., paperback $0.95.

FAITH AND THE PHYSICAL WORLD: A COMPREHENSIVE VIEW, David L. Dye, Eerdmans, 1966, 214 pages.

As a practicing physicist, Dr. Dye has a firm grasp of the scientific method. As an evangelical Christian, he holds a high view of Scripture. Like most thinkers, he feels the need for an adequate world-and-life view. In this book the author endeavors to develop a consistent Christian world view: Christian since it presupposes man's relationship with God in Christ; world in its purview of total reality; and a view that will make sense out of ourselves and our environment to give goals for living.

Dye pinpoints two opposite but equally irrational approaches to science in Protestantism today. The Fundamentalist tends to reject data that cannot readily be fitted into his current interpretation of the Bible. The Liberal, on the other hand, tends to accept uncritically interpretations of modern scientists and philosophers which require drastic revisions of Biblical doctrine. The author rejects both extremes as unscientific, in that they are uncritical, and delineates an alternative approach. In doing so, Dye has produced one of the best books in the field by an evangelical Christian in this decade, despite a significant weakness n his basic philosophical approach. As a diligent student of the Scripture and a practicing Christian, he has written with candor, perception, and humility. has done his homework well, showing an open mind coupled with commitment to basic presuppositions. scope of the book, then pinpoint a basic weakness in the way he relates the scientific and Biblical approaches to the natural world.

Dye lucidly describes the scientific method in the section entitled Physical Reality. He explains its three basic operations: observation, generalization and verifi cation. The author shows how these three pillars of the scientific method rest on three fundamental pre suppositions or philosophical assumptions:

1. Physical reality exists and is objectively observable.
2. Physical reality lends itself to logical description.
3. Some kind of causality operates in nature.

Here Dye observes: "Note that we do not need to specify any particular concept of physical reality, nor the formal properties of the logic, nor the type of causality that operates. The particular meanings one assigns to these assumptions define, not his science, but his philosophy of science. . . . These three presump tions are both necessary and sufficient for descriptive science."

Dye corrects a prevalent misunderstanding about proof in terms of consistency: "It behooves us to re member that in science consistency of data interpreta tion constitutes proof." This consistency is of two kinds. A scientific generalization must be internally consistent, or logically non-contradictory like a geometric theorem. In addition it must be externally consistent with the
phenomena predicted; if the theoretical description and experimental results agree, the theory is verified. Con trary to popular thought the scientific method does not  discover absolute truth. Dye emphasizes that scientific theories or laws are always tentative, since the data are  never complete. "In its history, however, science has abandoned many principles." In other words, science constantly travels but never arrives.

The author distinguishes this scientific method from scientism and naturalism, philosophical views which
deny the possibility of any reality not amenable direct ly to scientific observation. "Science tells us how things happen not why . . . because of its presuppositions, science is philosophicaly neutral . . . this potentiality  allows scientific inquiry to proceed unfettered by per sonal philosophic bias." Contrary to the claims of some scientific and popular opinion, science by its very nature cannot solve our deepest human problems. "We need ethical guidance for life which the increasingly accurate scientific descriptions do not contain. . . . To  borrow a mathematical phrase, science is philosophi cally indeterminate."

Christian Presuppositions

 In the next section entitled Christian Presuppositians Dye posits two additional assumptions. First is the existence and nature of God. He is designer and the creator of the physical universe, omnipotent and omnniscient, and spirit. Dye carefully points out that "God is not postulated as a means of explaining things not now understood by science, as many naively think, and as many Christians and others have mistakenly supposed in their past arguments...Belief in God arises, humanly speaking, from the inherent human need for comprehending meaning and purpose in life, and this type of understanding is qualitively different  from that of science's descriptions. Increasing the amount and accuracy of scientific description does not of itself lead us to acquire meaning in life, nor to achieve moral values."

The second assumption is the revelation of God in the Person of Jesus Christ. The author deals effectively  with this revelation in Christ recorded by Scripture. He then describes the God revealed by Jesus Christ.

 In a parenthetical discussion on miracles, Dye  makes several cogent observations. "This is the criterion by which to define a miracle: "God's purposes are being specifically accomplished in a physical event."  It may be what we call "supernatural" (unexplainable) or it may be a "natural" event whose remarkable feature is its timing. The essence of miracle is the use God makes of the event to glorify His name. Dye concludes that a specifically Christian comprehensive world view rests on five presuppositions: three
scientific and two Biblical. The author has an interesting diagram showing the relationship between the world we observe and the perspective from which we view it.

The remainder of the book works out the implications of this position. An excellent chapter entitled The Whole Man shows man's need for extra-scientific meaning in life. Dye sketches the resolution of this problem through personal commitment to God in Jesus Christ. He then deals with problems of Biblical interpretation and criticism, the origin of the universe, the origin of life and the aberrations of emotionalism. intellectualism and legalism. An excellent selected reading list briefly sketches each book's purpose and position.

Critique of Basic Position

Dye stakes out his basic philosophical position in the introduction. The book starts with the assertion, "Science is a means of knowledge about the world in which we live. It is the best means of knowing thus far devised by men" (p. 11). He observes, "The development of science as the best means of knowing about our world has precipitated many discussions as to the validity of any other means of knowing." He expands this concept two pages later. "Science gives us at best only an incomplete picture of reality. Science is the best-perhaps the only-means of describing physical reality, but if another category of reality exists by which needed ethical standards are determined ' or our moral natures are to be satisfied, then science might not be applicable to it. . . . The view of this book is that science treats only the physical part of our total environment. The other part-let us call it the spiritual part and leave it undefined for now-is also necessary for the fully satisfactory human experience of life (p. 14) . . . . As subsets of the ultimate total reality, we have postulated the two spheres, physical and spiritual reality, about which we can know something, by scientific observation in the one case, by more specific revelation from God in the other" (p. 69).

The author here makes several major assumptions which I can accept: 1) reality as a whole comprises more than the physical world; 2) the domain of science is observable physical phenomena; 3) science is a means of knowing about the world in which we live; 4) the scientific method does not yield ethical and moral values, nor is it able to produce purpose and meaning or life.

But I must take issue with his basic approach to reality which asserts that science is the best, perhaps the only, means of describing physical reality while Christianity describes another realm, the spiritual. This compartmentalization is open to question on two grounds. First, the physical world may be observed and represented not only scientifically but also aesthetically-a dimension the author overlooks. Second, Biblical religion takes the physical world seriously. Unlike Greek philosophy, it does not differentiate between matter and spirit by relegating religion to the realm of the spirit and the mind. In other words, the scientific method is only one of many approaches even to the physical world, while Biblical Christianity does not concede the physical world as the domain of science, operating only in a "spiritual" category of reality.

While good military Strategy often divides in order to conquer, this approach has been fatal to theology. We must learn this lesson from history. Thomas Aquinas assigned the domain of the observable and explainable to reason and the unexplainable to faith. Dye rightly rejects this position which produced a "God of the gaps". The Bible does not separate reason and faith as operative in different domains, nor does it so separate spirit and matter although it distinguishes between them.

On the contrary, we must approach reality as a whole, distinguishing not compartments or domains (which always engenders boundary disputes) but different approaches to the whole. The entire physical world may be observed from a variety of perspectives. Take man as an example. He may be viewed chemical ly as a complex of compounds; biologically as an animal organism; psychologically as a unique creation different from the animals; aesthetically as an artist; theologically as made in the image of God with spiritual awareness. In every case the total man is under scrutiny; he is not divided into sections (Christianity taking his spirit and science his body). Rather the entire man is viewed from different perspectives. Each perspective, a partial view of the total man, looks for certain elements and analyzes them accordingly within its own frame of reference.

So it is with the natural world. The scientific method measures, quantifies and predicts natural forces. It is not the only means of describing physical reality, nor even the best, but simply one very effective method for a limited purpose. Bethoven's Pastoral Symphony, the artist's painting, and the Psalmist's declaration "The heavens declare the glory of God" are equally valid, though widely different, representations of reality.

Dye writes, "Note also that science based on these presuppositions, describes observable reality and that this is the proper domain and function of science. This is the crucial point in our world view, for by it we decide where the interface comes between science and philosophy" (p. 34).

Observable objective reality is indeed the domain of science but not exclusively. It is also the domain of art, philosophy and even theology. Biblical Christianity is intensely physical as evidenced by the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus Christ. While it has dimensions beyond our natural world, it comes to us clothed in physical, observable phenomena. The "domain and function" of science should not be equated. Its domain is the world of observable phenomena; its function is to examine them from its particular perspective and for its own purpose. Philosophy has the same domain but a different perspective. Thus any "interface" between science and philosophy occurs not in the object studied, like a geographical boundary, but in overlap of method or approach. Questions of ethics, morals, meaning, value and purpose are dimensions of the total world in which we live and also express themselves, for better or worse, in physical events.

This weakness in the author's basic philosophical position, however, does not seriously impair the book's usefulness. Dye makes a significant contribution to the relationship between science and Christianity. This is one of the most valuable contemporary books in the field which adequately interprets the scientific method in readily understandable language and relates it to a thoroughly evangelical interpretation of Scripture.

Reviewed by Dr. Charles E. Hummel, President Barrington College, Barrington, Rhode Island.

THE CASE FOR CREATION, Wayne Frair and P. William Davis. A Christian Forum Book, Moody Press, Chicago, 1967. 96 pp., paperback $0.95.

Recently, President Dick Bube has challenged ASA to its responsibility in the light of its stated purpose. He deplores the fact that, as an affiliation, we have produced only two books in 26 years! But is this the whole story? Publications by our members but not sponsored by ASA are becoming more frequent. His own "Encounter" ("The Encounter Between Christianity and Science," Richard H. Bube, ed. Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 1968) and Maxwell Coder and George Howe's "The Bible, Science, and Creation" (Moody: Chicago, 1966) are two examples. This small paperback is another.

Using the "grammatico-historical approach to Scriptures" which is "the method of biblical exegesis (interpretation) most universally accepted among scholars of all shades of theological opinion today (p. 75), the authors build on the basis that:

1. "God is the Creator"
2. "There is order in creative activities
3. The creation of man was the climax of creative

Although not making a great issue of time, they prefer "days of Genesis ... comparable to our own days,"

and days reflecting "the temporal orders of creation." Their main working thesis is that:

It is the task of evangelical research to determine the nature of the Genesis 'kind.' We may infer that all changes take place only within boundaries set by the creative hand of God since the Scriptures teach that organisms reproduce after their kind. Hence, no change can take place capable of causing an organism to move to a kind different from that of its ancestors. For this reason it is important to discover what the boundaries of the 'kinds' are. (p. 79)

The biological areas relating the General Theory of Evolution are concisely presented and alternative explanations of the data suggested. After tying in history (Darwinism) and philosophy (Nature of Science), they discuss briefly the reason for similarities, the various comparative fields, distribution in time and space, and prehistoric man. Except for a momentary lapse in describing Seymouria as "a mammal-like reptile" (p. 56) (Seymouria had some characters of amphibians, some of reptiles. The mammal-like reptile is Cynognathus), most data are up-to-date and presented in a straight-forward manner. High school and college biology students will recognize each topic. They will be helped particularly by the short annotated reading list. An index-usually missing from such short books is a welcome feature.

Feeling that, "The Christian can present special creation as an alternative to the doctrine of organic evolution," they emphasize gaps rather more than synthesis. They make a point, for example, of the "host of fossils" found in the Cambrian "which are virtually absent from older layers of rock." They further state that from a scientific standpoint alone it is evident that a spectacular event must have occurred at that time and that "the abrupt change . . . is a result of God's creative activity." (p. 55) About the gaps they say that, "There appears to be little question about the fact that gaps are real, and it seems increasingly less likely that they will be filled." (p. 56)

Frair and Davis' purpose (p. 9) to formulate their main ideas "after honest examination of scientific data and proper biblical exegesis" has, I believe, been accomplished within the parameters of their presuppositions. Theirs is certainly one way to handle the various data. Refreshingly, they have resorted to a minimum of invective. Their challenging closing sentence re-enforces President Bube's concern. "Perhaps as a result of renewed research effort by God's people, clarification of His creative pattern will soon be forthcoming." (p. 81)

J. Frank Cassel, Professor of Zoology North Dakota State University and Barrington College Barrington, R.I.