Science in Christian Perspective




JASA Book Reviews for September 1963

Table of Contents

Science and Religion, by Paul Chaucard, tr. by S. J. Tester. Hawthorn Books, Englewood Cliffs, N. J., 1962. 156 pp., $3.50.
Science and Christian Belief, by C. A. Coulson. Fontana Books, Wm. Collins Sons & Co. Ltd., London and Glasgow, 1958. 159 pp., paper, 2s6d ($35).
The Message of Genesis, by Ralph H. Elliott. Orig. publ. by Broadman Press, Nashville, Tenn., 1961. 209 pp., $4.50; now publ. by Abbott Books, The Christian Board of Publication, Box 179, St. Louis 66, Mo., Paper, $1.75.
Genesis I-XI, by Alan Richardson. SCM Press Ltd., London, 1953. 134 pp., 10s6d ($1.47).

Science and Religion, by Paul Chaucard, tr. by S. J. Tester. Hawthorn Books, Englewood Cliffs, N. J., 1962. 156 pp., $3.50.

This is Vol. 130 of the Twentieth Century Encyclopedia of Catholicism, for which 150 volumes are planned; about 89 volumes in the series have already appeared. Dr. Chaucard has a medical degree as well as a doctorate in physiology. He is director of a laboratory of neurophysiology in Paris and connected with the Catholic Institute there.

The three parts of his book deal with the use of science against religion, the separation of science and religion, and the reconciliation of science and religion. The viewpoints expressed are naturally those approved by the Roman Catholic Church, but Protestants will find much of value in this small book. It is much more highly flavored with philosophy than is customary for books written by natural scientists. However, it is clearly written and the arguments are easy to follow. Dr. Chaucard has achieved some success as a popularizer of science in France; at least one of his popular books, The Brain, has been translated into English and is available as an Evergreen Profile paperback (Grove Press, N. Y., 1962, $ .95).-Reviewed by Irving W. Knobloch, Professor of Botany, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Mich;gan.

Science and Christian Belief, by C. A. Coulson. Fontana Books, Wm. Collins Sons & Co. Ltd., London and Glasgow, 1958. 159 pp., paper, 2s6d ($35).

The McNair Lectures at the University of North Carolina were founded through a bequest made by the Reverend John Calvin McNair of the class of 1849 and becoming available to the University in 1906. The pertinent extract from the McNair will reads as follows:

As soon as the interest accruing thereon shall by said Trustees be deemed sufficient they shall employ some able
Scientific Gentleman to deliver before the students then in attendance at said University, a course of lectures, the object of which lectures shall be to show the mutual bearing of science and theology upon each other, and to prove the existence and attributes, as far as may be, of God from nature. The lectures, which must be performed by a member of some one of the Evangelic denominations of Christians, must be published within twelve months after delivery, either in pamphlet or book form.

Science and Christian Belief constitutes the 1954 McNair Lectures delivered by Dr. C. A. Coulson, distinguished professor of applied mathematics at Oxford and a Methodist layman. These lectures, first published in 1955 by the University of North Carolina Press, are now available in the inexpensive Fontana paperback series which also includes titles by C. S. Lewis and J. B. Phillips.

Prof. Coulson goes beyond merely defensive apologetics in his Christian writings to lay a foundation for positive communication of the Gospel to scientists. His willingness to accept and value the work of fellow scientists is perhaps an important note for us in the ASA to catch:

There are many ways by which men may come to this new birth and it ill behoves any of us to deny or belittle the progress that our neighbor has made; not all who cry 'Lord, Lord' will get first places in the Kingdom. Many of those who call themselves scientists will never be able to use these words meaningfully, yet I believe most firmly that they may be said to be religious. [The nearest they come to Jesus Christ through their scientific work may be only some innate sense of the fitness of things and they may not acknowledge that they are thinking God's thoughts after Him, but] we may fairly tell them that this is indeed what they are doing. Most of them will agree that for them science is an imaginative adventure of the mind seeking truth in a world of mystery; and surely we can start with them there, as we started in these pages, and gradually be led to a wider awareness. At least we can tell them that they will not be obliged to renounce that which they do already possess.

A key point that Coulson makes is that science and religion should not be separated in our thinking. For one thing, even today many scientists are also devout Christians, and this is possible without "an unbearable dichotomy of experience." Secondly, since both represent only partial views of a larger truth, if one separates science from religion there is a danger of making science a type of religion which becomes a substitute for Christianity. We cannot bring God in at the end of science to fill up the gaps left over, so He must be there at the very start; that is, science must be thought of as a religious experience and as one "view" of the "existence and attributes" of God.

However, as others have also pointed out, science and religion must in addition be kept somewhat separate in our thinking. Science is not the tool of religion and one should be wary of trying to use scientific data and theories to prove religious dogma; science is dynamic, and if one harmonizes Scripture with some current theory, re-harmonizing may become necessary when the theory has changed. The Ptolemaic theory comes to mind here. While no proof of God can come from science, yet it seems easier for one to believe nowadays in a Supreme Being because research in the last sixty years has shown us that the world is infinitely more complicated than formerly thought possible. Complexity in itself does not give proof of a Divine Maker because apparent complexity may be only an indication of our lack of understanding. It does seem logical to this reviewer, however, to believe that every increase in complexity discovered by science makes a spontaneously formed universe just that much more unlikely. - Reviewed by W. R. H. and Irving W. Knoblocb, Professor of Botany, Michigan State University, East L4nsing, Michigan.

The Message of Genesis, by Ralph H. Elliott. Orig. publ. by Broadman Press, Nashville, Tenn., 1961. 209 pp., $4.50; now publ. by Abbott Books, The Christian Board of Publication, Box 179, St. Louis 66, Mo., Paper, $1.75.

Genesis I-XI, by Alan Richardson. SCM Press Ltd., London, 1953. 134 pp., 10s6d ($1.47).

Before being fired over the furor in the Southern Baptist Convention brought on by publication of The Message of Genesis, its author was Chairman of the Department of Old Testament at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri. The book was allowed to go out of print by the Southern Baptist publishing house but has now become available as a paperback from the publishing house of the Disciples of Christ. It is essentially a theological commentary.

Opinion on the theological posture of the author varies widely. Elliott takes the results of critical studies seriously, accepts a documentary hypothesis of the origin of the Pentateuch, acknowledges that problems in translation and interpretation exist, but always seems to this reviewer to try to find a relatively conservative viewpoint consistent with modern scholarship. In Part I Authorship and Date, his summary statement exemplifies this:

Many human authors, worship circles, and redactors appear to have had a part in shaping Genesis over a long
period of time. In a special sense,
this underscores the fact that God is the ultimate author. In his wisdorn, providence, and persuasion, he revealed to the hearts of many generations the story of man's need and God's answer.

This approach to. Genesis-the belief that the sover eign God could speak the message consistently and have it comprehended through many human instruments spells "miracle.-

Part I ends with a discussion of the general nature of revelation, pointing to three different levels: the historical events themselves, the interpretation of these events, and finally the transcendent parabolic and symbolic nature of God's message in the Bible. "Genesis is to be understood in this light. It is not science. In the material attributed to J and P, the early writers were in no way trying to give a scientific or literal explanation."

In Part II: The Need of Man, the first eleven chapters of Genesis are seen as primarily a "blueprint for theology" rather than either a scientific textbook or even a detailed historical picture. The theological superiority of the Biblical creation account is shown in comparison to other creation stories. However, the Biblical account uses the concept of the world prevalent at the time as a vehicle for showing the proper concept of God.

Elliott does not seem entirely consistent because he himself attempts some harmonizing of Genesis with science. For example, although he admits that superficially the most plausible explanation of yon; is that of a twenty-four hour period, "to accept such amounts to a disregard of what science his to say about the age of the earth," so he concludes that the writer meant to indicate a period of indefinite length. Again, in discussing the longevity of the antediluvians, he cites a study of 187 Neanderthal fossils showing that the great majority of them died before the age of 40! In general, however, the impact of specific scientific findings on interpretation of Genesis is not dealt with in as much detail as in Ramm's The Christian View of Science and Scripture, the sole reference cited in the discussion of the flood. Elliott follows Alan Richardson in the use of the term "parable" and scrupulously avoids the term 11 myth" except in one case: on the marriage of the sons of God with the daughters of men (Gen. 6) he states merely that the author may have used a fragment of mythology as a literary vehicle.

In Part III: God's Answer to Man's Need, the rest of Genesis is regarded as less parabolic and more historical; the author argues that the New Testament writers accepted Abraham and other patriarchs as historical and that the stories surrounding their lives are essentially accurate, although the material may have been heightened a bit to intensify some dominant characteristic of the patriarch. In this section considerable supporting evidence from archeology is cited.

Although the evidence is not entirely clear on this point, it may be concluded that this book is really the product of many authors. The redactor, whom we may call E (for Elliott), has apparently drawn from many sources, some written and some oral. The principal written sources may be designated R (for Richardson, Ramm, and others) and S (for C. A. Simpson of The Interpreter's Bible, John Skinner of The International Critical Commentaries, John R. Sampey, beloved Southern Baptist theologian, and several others). To say that he has skillfully blended material from such divers sources as R and S is not to say that E has contributed no original concepts to the final product; furthermore, in spite of the fact that opposing viewpoints are frequently presented, the essential unity apparent on careful study consistently reveals E's worthy purpose in writing-to discover the message of Genesis, not as science or history, but as religion.

Books which are strictly Bible commentaries are not ordinarily reviewed in JASA: Dr. Elliott's book is an exception because of the widespread publicity it has received. Brief mention should also be made of Alan Richardson's little volume, Genesis I-XI, in the SCM series of Torch Bible Commentaries, since Elliott refers to it and Dr. Richardson, Professor of Christian Theology at the University of Nottingham, makes some specific comments about science and Genesis (pp. 34-38). Many ASA members will no doubt think Richardson is on the wrong track in his assertion that the early chapters of Genesis should be read as religious parables and that consequently no attempt should be made to harmonize science and the Genesis accounts of creation, the flood, and the tower of Babel. Even those who agree with his major thesis may differ on some specific points. Because arguments about the interpretation of Genesis so often bring in the supposed motives of those on the opposing side, it is important for us to note several things Richardson says.

For one thing, it is clear that his argument cannot be written off as that of a philosophical materialist or anti-supernaturalist. There can be no conflict between science and Genesis, he says, because the two are talking about different things; however, if we use the term science in the sense of scientism (naturalism, positivism, scientific humanism), "then, of course, there will be a fight to the death between tscience' and religion. Though it is often called 'the scientific attitude' by its upholders, this point of view is not 'science at all, but a very old kind of materialistic philosophy. The main tenet of this philosophy is that scientific truth is the only kind of truth." It seems to this reviewer that Biblical literalists who insist that Genesis must be "scientifically true" if it is to be true at all are actually closer to philosophical positivism than is someone like Richardson or Elliott.

Furthermore, we simply cannot label the most literal interpretation of Genesis as the only thoroughly Christian position when someone like Richardson has this to say (p. 40):

Because, through its poetic symbols and basic images, Genesis has the strange power to confront us with the naked truth of our human predicament before the majesty and goodness of God, we may rightly speak of the 'inspiration' of Genesis. Why this book, written in this way, should have this mysterious power, we cannot say;
  it is part of the total mystery of divine revelation. Revelation is always the gift of God, vouchsafed where and when he will, and not as we might expect. All we can do is to thank God with humble adoration for his gift of Genesis, as of all the Holy Scriptures written for our learning, and pray that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of his holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which he has given us in our Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Do not all of us say Amen to that?

-W. R. H.