Science in Christian Perspective

Book Reviews


JASA Book Reviews for October 1969

Table of Contents

An Introduction to the Philosophy of Science by J.J.C. Smart, Random House, New York, 1968
THE ENCOUNTER BETWEEN CHRISTIANITY AND SCIENCE: Edited by Richard H. Bube. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1968. 318 pp. $5.95
THE BIOLOGICAL TIME BOMB by Gordon Rattray Taylor, The World Publishing Co., Cleveland, 1968. 240 pp. $5.50.
THE HUNGRY PLANET by Georg Borgstrom, Collier Books, New York, 1967. 507 pp. $2.95 (paper).

An Introduction to the Philosophy of Science by J.J.C. Smart, Random House, New York, 1968

A dearth of viable textbooks plagues undergraduate courses in philosophy of science. Even the main contenders are not without fault. Nagel's Structure of Science is a bit heady for undergraduates, Pap's untimely death kept his Introduction from perfection, and Wartofsky gives far too much of too many good things for such a course. Smart takes a step in the right direction. His hook is a sophisticated piece of analytical philosophy which is surprisingly accessible to a general reader. And even though it treats current and serious scientific issues, it is not abstruse.

Smart strikes a nice balance between the teaching and the doing of philosophy, two activities which are best kept together. For example, after a sympathetic presentation of philosophical views on the nature of physical theory, he turns to the current problem of what noticeable effect our philosophical views can have on current developments in quantum theory. Smart takes his philosophical position without befogging his presentation of the issues and responses to them. He leads the student right into the midst of controversial topics currently appearing in the journals; for example, the vindication of induction, and the nature of explanation. Of course, this is not without its disadvantages; because the very issues which now make a book relevant will in time brand it as passé. But, supposedly eternal life is not one of the requirements of a good textbook.

The main topics in the book-explanation, induction, laws, and theories-are smoothly united by Smart's pervasive arguments for realism; that is, by his claim that a scientific theory can actually he true, that it is not just a useful fiction, but that it says something about the world. As is bound to happen, he fails to establish realism once and for all. He cannot make a strong enough ease for the existence of the theoryneutral brute facts with which really true theories accord. All he can establish is that science progresses nicely if we treat theories as if they were pictures of reality. With that contention, even the most adamant instrumentalist would agree. Still, against our current vogue for instrumentalism, Smart's defense of realism is well-taken, at least as a worthwhile pedagogical gambit.

What is perhaps of greatest interest for students, is that after his philosophical analysis of problems within science, Smart turns the searchlight of scientific philosophy upon such issues as mind and matter, freedom of the will, and the nature of time and space. After all, if it is agreed that it is science which has fashioned our world view, surely it must he agreed that science has something to tell us about some of the large questions about man and the rest of the universe with which metaphysicians have traditionally been concerned. 

Smart treats the biological sciences as well as the physical ones, though he omits the social sciences. Each chapter of his book contains a good bibliography with brief comments on the entries, a feature that is very useful for students. An optional chapter introduces logical and semantical technicalities.

Smart's book is currently the best-qualified text for a one-semester undergraduate course in the philosophy of science.

Reviewed by Peter Anton Pay, Department of Philosophy, Florida Presbyterian College.

THE ENCOUNTER BETWEEN CHRISTIANITY AND SCIENCE: Edited by Richard H. Bube. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1968. 318 pp. $5.95

Encounters between Christianity and six fields of science are evaluated by six scientific authorities with Christian insights. Apparent conflicts are exposed, analyzed, and exploded. Honest exposition of the truth in both Christianity and science is the book's major thrust, and it strongly witnesses that Christians can he effective scientists (and vice versa).

Richard Bube, author of five of the ten chapters, succeeds in his "attempt to sum up" the nature of science and Christianity. His insight into the operations and scope of science makes the first chapter relevant for the scientist as well as the non-scientist. His ability to define the nature of Christianity makes the second chapter vital for the Christian as well as the non-Christian. Pertinent sections on the proper role of science, evidence for God in natural revelation, miracles, and an enlightening view of natural vs. supernatural (body vs. soul) phenomena highlight Chapter 3. A perceptive discussion of the purposes of Biblical revelation sets the tone of Chapter 4. He chooses lively Scriptural examples to point out principles for interpretation of the verbal Word and places major emphasis on the principle of deriving revelational content of the Biblical message according to its revelational purpose. He concludes that discovery of errors in the Bible results from using non-Biblical criteria to judge Biblical inerrancy and that formulation of "Biblical" mechanistic concepts of the physical world, in conflict with current science, follows from asking questions inconsistent with the guiding principles of revelational purpose.

In Astronomy (Chapter 5) Owen Gingerich analyzes problems Christians have gotten into as a result of attempting to harmonize specific astronomical and biological theories with Genesis 1 and other passages. Geology (Chapter 6) by F. Donald Eckelmann weaves together encounters in geology, paleontology, and anthropology, and meets head-on the questions that evolution poses for Christians. He outlines the boundary conditions set by scientific data and Christian theology that must be honored in attempting to reconcile the natural and Biblical records. These chapters are well-documented and command attention.

Bube describes striking parallels between Christianity and his field, physical science (Chapter 7), since encounters may not appear to exist. Just as quantum physics has made common sense inadequate as a means for interpreting the physical world, he suggests that common sense is also inadequate for interpreting the mysteries of Christianity. Instead, complementarity and paradox provide the most useful means of correlating apparently irreconcilable truths. Some of the problems in understanding the concepts of physics and of Christianity result from inability to "crack the code of terminology" that verbalizes these concepts. Bube describes events leading to the downfall of classical determinism and the development of relativity, quantum mechanics, and indeterminacy, and then reviews Pollard's Chance and Providence.

Walter R. Hearn spends the first half of Chapter 8 patiently explaining how patterns of specialization and tensions within the biological sciences have contributed to tensions between biology and theology. He shows that evolution and life are inseparably linked at the population, organismic, and cellular levels. In view of this, Hearn states that biological science can contribute to Christianity by freeing theology from speculation on mechanisms, "so that theology can devote its energies to consideration of what more the world of life may be." He points out the opportunities for Christians to communicate the Good News of Jesus Christ to biologists caught in the tensions of this rapidly changing area.

Stanley E. Lindquist suggests in Chapter 9 that psychology, perhaps more than biology, is splintered into independent subfields, which makes it difficult to discuss the interaction between psychology and Christianity. However, problem areas that psychology poses to the Christian are described: determinism vs. individual responsibility, existentialism, behaviorism, child rearing, the conscious and unconscious, self-denial, guilt feelings, mental breakdown, withdrawal, mind control, personality development, and elements of mental health, Christian faith and beliefs.

David 0. Moberg in Chapter 10 examines tensions Christians experience as they study the basic philosophical orientations supporting social-science theories: 1) naturalism-explaining religious experiences on the basis of man's being a social animal; 2) social determinism negating individual free will (Moberg suggests that this problem is best solved by considering the exercise of free will within the limits of biological, physical, and social circumstances:) 3) cultural relativity-describing the nature of human societies and questioning the validity of the cultural basis of Christianity (this is not inconsistent with Christian faith, but becomes an antiChristian perspective when accepted as a description of the essential nature of the universe); 4) ethical relativity-questioning the validity of absolute standards of morality (this is not a problem if Christians accept the type of ethical relativism presented in the New Testament, which is alluded to by Moberg as the ideal of moral conduct; he does charge social scientists with overstepping boundaries of their science in promoting relativism); and 5) social Darwinism-equating survival with goodness (he attacks this as contrary to the Gospel of love taught by Jesus Christ, although, ironically, many Christians in American society hold on to perspectives of social Darwinism). Moberg sees the equating of progress with secularization as a fatalistic view that is opposed to Biblical teachings. He also describes various theoretical and ethical problems that may have arisen from the methodological procedures of social science. Moberg then discusses contributions that Christians in social science can make toward improving effectiveness of church work and promoting scientific ethics. The ethics of the scientific method are shown to accord with the ethics of Christianity. He includes an excellent section on reasons for the religious skepticism of scientists, although scientists do have a "faith" and a set of postulates from which they operate, and some even extend this faith into religious scientism.

In contrast with a 1959 ASA publication, Evolution and Christian Thought Today, the six scientists in this book have independently reached a consensus in their evaluation of encounters between their scientific field and Christianity. This consensus is that science and Christian (Biblical) theology, properly understood and used, are compatible and complementary instead of contradictory (mutually exclusive) or "harmonized" (meshed together unrecognizably).

Richard Bube has done a remarkable job of editing and incorporating the other authors' chapters. Cross references to similar topics in earlier chapters are helpful. Subjects, names, and Scripture references are compiled in separate indices, and suggestions for additional reading are listed. This stimulating and timely book could serve the ASA as a springboard for further discussion of current encounters between Christianity and science. I highly recommend it to all members.

Reviewed by Jerry D. Albert, Department of Pathology, University Hospital of Son Diego County, San Diego, California

THE BIOLOGICAL TIME BOMB by Gordon Rattray Taylor, The World Publishing Co., Cleveland, 1968. 240 pp. $5.50.

Although this book is not written for any particular segment of society, it seems to have a great deal to say to the Evangelical Christian layman as well as to the scientist. It is a book full of projected biological breakthroughs for the next half century. Contrary to most such publications, Mr. Taylor carefully documents the present research which he feels will lead into future discoveries. There is even an attempt to foretell when the various technical achievements will be accomplished, but fortunately the author predicts that some of these might not come to pass.

Perhaps one of the more difficult areas for the Evangelical will be discoveries involving reproductive physiology. What will the church say to its constituents about frozen sperm banks? Once a month abortion pills? Choosing the desired sex or characteristics for a child from three or more fertilized eggs and then implanting that one while destroying the rest? One's imagination could begin to run away in this area. What will be defined as moral when birth control becomes 100% effective and venereal diseases are under control or easily cured? Mr. Taylor mentions that governments may become more interested in birth control as they realize that masses of people alone do not make a nation strong. As advances occur in this area, the only deterrents to immorality as defined by the Bible will be the fear of God and local cultural mores. Will the church have something positive to say to its young people as such discoveries become available for public use?

Mr. Taylor uses several other areas in trying to illustrate why the time bomb is about to explode in our faces. There are discussions on the transplantation of various organs, methods for prolonging life, development of babies outside the uterine environment, control of the mind, changing of genetic material, and the creation of life. The author questions why there are research interests in prolonging, temporarily freezing, or creating life when living organisms are already so abundant on the earth. The time may come, he thinks, when older people may need to have the right to die peacefully. Would the church be able to support this?

The total picture leads the author to a seemingly controversial proposal. He suggests that we begin to think about clamping controls on certain types of biological research until we are socially and judicially ready to receive them. Otherwise, discoveries may control us or be used to our detriment by unscrupulous individuals. He thinks that scientists ought to consider the social implications of their work before embarking on a problem. Are Christians working in science willing to support such a proposal and think of ways to bring about such controls? Mr. Taylor proposes some ideas along this line in a final chapter entitled, "The future, if any." Is the American Scientific Affiliation membership willing to speak out when the uses of biological discoveries run counter to the Bible as we understand it? Would we be heard if we did?

Renewed by Donald Munro, Professor of Biology, Houghton College, Houghton, N.Y.

THE HUNGRY PLANET by Georg Borgstrom, Collier Books, New York, 1967. 507 pp. $2.95 (paper).

You will have difficulty believing this book after a hearty meal, but the author marshals an imposing array of tables, data, and references as evidence that this planet is heading for trouble if its present rate of increase in population continues and its inability to provide for its food shows no more promise than
at present . we seem to face the alternative of nuclear annihilation or universal suffocation." We do not feed adequately the billions now living and we can look forward to a doubling of our population by the year 2000.
Countries threatened with hunger and a lowering of living standards resort to war, such as Japan, Italy, and Germany. But the world is approaching the state of having little undeveloped land to conquer. Borgstrom considers the possibility of new acreage in Australia, Siberia, and Amazonia and the hope of getting more food from the sea or from algae culture or even synthetic foods and finds that these will alleviate but not completely supply our future needs. Increased costs of sending desalinated water inland, and salt water seeping into the continent from the ocean filling in the space evacuated by the fresh waters, suggest that the ocean cannot make up for our tremendous withdrawal from our water sources. "In order to produce one single ordinary slice of bread, thirty five gallons of water are required."

So "a common battle against starvation, disease, and misery, and above all against ignorance, requires a radical change in the goals of world science." "If the present gigantic armament race may be called the great squanderer of millions, space research belongs in the same category and so also to a large degree does atomic research." Research projects against world starvation amount to a fraction of the sums used for atomic and rocket research.

Reviewed by Russell L. Mixter, Biology Department, Wheaton College, Wheaton, Ill.