Science in Christian Perspective




Bernard Ramm, A. B., B. D., M. A.

Professor of Apologetics, The Bible Institute of Los Angeles

From: JASA 1 #3 (June 1949): 10-15.

Many scientists do not understand the actual structure and nature of scientific knowledge. In the laboratory they are of a very practical bent of mind, and they take things just about as they find them, i.e. they do not subject their methods nor materials nor scientific heritage to any kind of critical scrutiny. The results of this are usually bad because they lead to a very biased, dogmatic scientism.

This naivete is apparent in reference to the usual conception of scientific law. We speak of "proving" a scientific law beyond the shadow of a doubt. To the contrary today logicians admit that certainty of proof is possible only in formal logic, i.e. in the logic of classes in extension which neatly clips off the perplexing problem of intension.1 Hence logicians restrict the word "prove" to the realm of formal logic where all statements are tautologies. Cohen and Nagel put it this way; "A hypothesis becomes verified, but of course not proved beyond every doubt, through the successful predictions it makes."2

In the realm of material3 implication are to be found the problems of science. In material implication we prove nothing with certainty. We can only verify with degrees of probability. The naive scientist makes his big mistake right at this point: he uses the categories of formal logic in the realm of material implication and comes up with the application of formal certainty to the material non-formal world. And so it is that many writers speak of evolution as having been proved as if as a scientific statement it were endowed with the certainty of conclusions. in symbolic logic.

Broadly speaking a law of nature is generalization. It may be a simple, empirical statement such as "lead has the properties of a, b, c ... n." It may be a broader statement, i.e. more general,- e.g. chemical reactions occur in units or multiples thereof. This would not only include lead but all the elements. Or we may even generalize further and say that every particle in the universe is attracted to every other particle in the universe in direct proportion to their masses, and in inverse proportion to the square of the distance;

1 The difference between intension and extension is somewhat as follows: To give the intention' of a term is to indicate its qualities or 'characteristics, which is a very difficult job in many cases, e.g. the varying interpretations of man himself. To give the extension of a term is to give a list of the objects in the class or to simply indicate the class. Hence it is far-easier to say X is a man (extension) than to say man is characterized by x, y,
X,..n (intension). For further details on this cf. Blanshard, The Nature of Thought.

2 Cohen and Nage1,.'An Introduction to Logic and Scientific Knowledge, p. 208

3 Formal implication is the deduction of theorems from axioms, or primitive sentences. Geometry is the classical and historical example of a formal system with formal implication. In reference to the regular connections in the natural world the problem is far more complicated. Here connection is described as "material implication." Such implication is probable.

Thus generalization arises from the observation of particulars. We do not see laws; we see only instances, or cases of the law. In the falling of a rain drop we do not see the law of gravity but what we consider to be an instance of the law. When we have seen a great number of instances that appear to be similar we endeavor to form a generalization, i.e. a hypothesis that will explain the instances by showing that they are all members of a class,

The next question is this: how do we know if we have chosen the correct hypothesis? The truth or falsity-of a hypothesis is in terms of the 'logical and experimental entailment of the hypothesis in a logical system no hypothesis can be both true and false. If our hypothesis gets us into logical trouble we may find out that our system is wrong (i.e. the hypothesis is right) or that the hypothesis is wrong (the system is right).4

From the standpoint of experimentation an hypothesis must survive rigid tests.
As soon as the hypothesis involves us into a contradiction in material implication then we must revise our hypothesis, or revise our entire science of that subject., or drop out the hypothesis. If, on the other hand, the hypothesis meets with success. it gains prestige. If it meets with more success it is "converted" into a law. ,

But whether it be a simple empirical law of the nature of lead or a very broad generalization like the second law of thermodynamics, the law is still a probability statement. It is not a logical statement possessing universality and necessity. Its validity hangs upon further experimentation.5

So far we have endeavored to establish two propositions: (1). We must not think of physical laws in terms of logical certainty, and (2). We must conceive them as probability statements. Our (3) next statement is this: the more general a law is the more difficult it is to establish it with a high degree of probability6
and the more susceptible it is to suplantation by another generalization. This can be illustrated by contrasting the problem of determining the specific heat of iron with the most general laws of astronomy. Perhaps a hundred more years of experimentation will not change our present figure for the specific heat of iron but cosmological generalizations involve such a complexity of data that we cannot have such simple assurances as we have about the specific heat of iron.

Now let us take our three propositions and endeavor to apply them to the theory of evolution.

'The genius of Einstein was his reconstruction of physics rather than trying to patch up Newton. Relativity was born out of logical trouble, Einstein's so-called "thought experiments."

'For example,
reference to lead itself besides 204 they have discovered 206 207, 208. Thus our law about lead must be further defined.

'However "crucial experiments" that meet the requirements for such have a high evidential value such as Eddington's verification of Einstein's theory of light being bent when passing a large body and thus confirming relativity theory (1919).

(1). If our first proposition is true, then we cannot think of evolution being established as certain, universal, and necessary. Scientists who use such terms are not speaking or writing Accurately or clearly. They evidence lack of understanding in failing to discriminate between formal and material implication, between verification and confirmation.7

Bold pronouncements then as to the finality of evolution as the ultimate theory of biology are not in keeping with the nature of scientific knowledge.

(2). According to our second proposition, evolution is a probability statement.8 It is, to begin with, based on a great number of observations, geological, biological, embryological, and psychological. From these observations are noted similarities and from these similarities a class is extracted, e.g. "all ostriches have long necks," "this animal reproduces by internal gestation," "event X follows event Y in the embryo." Such generalizations may be quite particular such as "ostriches have long necks" and others would be quite general such as "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny."

Finally, the great bulk of scientific data is summarized by the most universal generalization possible such as "all animals are the result of previous gradual transformations and will in turn change into other forms by the continuance of this process of transformation." This much is clear, nobody actually saw evolution at work. What are observed are specific incidents and these incidents are classed into generalizations of different compass and are in turn probability statements. Evolution is a generalization of the widest biological compass and it cannot rise in certainty higher than the simple, empirical generalizations that are foundation
al to it, and it is therefore a probability statement.

As a hypothesis it can only survive when it can be shown that no logical inconsistency is involved in the systematic organization of the biological and geological sciences, and no material inconsistency develops. If a logical consistency is discovered, or if a material inconsistency develops, then evolution must either be modified or discarded depending on the seriousness of the trouble.

For example, if the theory of evolution be discovered to contain a series of contradictory statements the theory must be revised or discarded. It cannot categorically state at the same time the following: (a) Life comes only from life; (b) Life arose spontaneously ages ago. Nor can it state categorically: (c) offspring tend to keep within the normal spread of variation. This task of detecting internal inconsistency in the theory of evolution is a difficult ' and a tremendous one, and part of the current prestige of evolution is that this is not a major note in biological studies.

Again, evolution must be revised or altered if it can be shown that it runs into difficulty with material implication. If no mechanism for evolution can be demonstrated then the theory stands in grave danger. Typical of the evolutionists is Howells who admits that there is from known mechanism for evolution yet he accepts

7 A Classic article on such terms and the problems here mentioned is that of Rudolph Carnap, "Testability and Meaning," Philosophy of Science,, 3:419-71, 1946, :and 4:2-40,'January, 1947.

8 The philosopher of science who has most developed the probability character of scientific statements is Hans Reichenbach, Experience and Prediction, Chapter I.

the theory without facing the logical implications of the lack of a mechanism. He
writes: "And there is also the mystery of how and why evolution takes place at
all . . . Evolution is a fact, like digestion. Nor is it known just why evolution occurs, or exactly what guides its steps.9

Furthermore, the geologic record might get evolution into trouble. If in the course of the next hundred years it be clearly recognized that no real intermediary forms exist in the geological record, or that they exist in such meagre numbers as to forbid any real prediction, then evolution must again reckon with serious change or bankruptcy. Granted, all would agree not everything was preserved in the rocks, but at least we must reckon that things were representatively preserved.10

To summarize, all of the statements in evolution are probability statements whose further life hangs on further evidence that may confirm or deny. To assert finality is not in keeping with what we know to be the logico-scientific structure of scientific theory.

(3) The generalizations of generalizations are the most difficult statements to make because they are at the long end of a series of probability statements and because the verification of such a statement is fraught with so many problems such as the strong element of subjectivity in the scientist, the welter of details, the number of possibilities, the various less-generalized statements that need to be harmoniously worked in.

If the history of science is anything it is the history of ruined and wrecked generalizations. Although this is a sign of the health and self-correctiveness of science, it is also a sign of its uncertainty and tentativeness on the theoretical level. Two great generalizations have been accepted by western culture only to be subsequently discredited by the later developments. The first is Ptolemaic astronomy which seems to be so obvious to the naked eye. However we today pride ourselves in our emancipation from it. What was then commonplace and adequate is today listed among the mistaken theories.

Secondly, the Newtonian system acquired even more prestige than the Ptolemaic system for Newton had apparently written the very laws of God. For over two hundred years his system reigned supreme. But now after the work of such men as Einstein, Bohr, Planck, and Heisenberg, it stands as a special case of a now larger theory. Its absolutes (time, mass, and space) have been rejected. Its application to sub-atomic particles is an impossibility.

Besides these two great instances hundreds of others could be cited where the obvious and accepted has given way to the new such as in the theory of phlogiston, the generation of germs from slime and muck, the abhorrence of vacuum by nature. It would be well if the evolutionists would seriously face the significance of the history of science with its thousands of defunct hypotheses before it takes the theory of evolution as unquestionably established.

9 William Howells, Mankind So Far, p. 5.

1O In a most interesting series of charts prepared by Dewar, the latter sets forth the statistics concerning fossil remains in terms of the number of general, the percentage, the relationship to those now living, etc. Dewar claims that this is the first time this has ever been done in the history of geology. Dewarand Shelton, Is-Evolution Proved, p. 61 ff.

If the evolution theory be a generalization of a host of lesser and greater generalizations then it is not possible to show that--at the present time of knowledge--all possibilities have been exhausted. Like Ptolemaic astronomy and Newtonian physics it may be subsequently replaced. We must therefore insist that evolutionists use the word "probable" and not "true" when speaking of evolution. At best it is an effort at reconstruction as to how things might have happened, not how they must have happened. It is the beat guess to date that an unregenerate mind can make that rejects Biblical revelation, and without revelation might never shift its position.

Finally, what is the interpretative principle that the Christian brings to the myriad of facts, biological, geological, and the like?

The general interpretative principle that this writer adopts is that Genesis 1 records in broad outline the successive creative acts of God in bringing the universe and world to the state when it could be inhabited by man. Being a very general and broad sketch, Genesis 1 leaves considerable room for the empirical determination of various and diverse facts. Hence a multitude of facts now generally accepted by scientists would remain unchanged according to this view we are advocating.

Secondly, there is no advance upward apart from the creative activity of God. There may be horizontal radiation of life but no vertical. This is precisely the point where this view differs from theistic evolution. Evolution, theistic and naturalistic, believes in the radiation of life from lower to higher forms, from the simple to the complex. According to our view radiation can only be horizontal. That is, the "root-specie" of, shall we say the "dogs" may radiate outward into wolves, coyotes, and dogs and all the varieties of each. But there is only unraveling of gene potentialities--no upward evolution. And this seems to be in keeping with the fact that we do have in geology no demonstrable verticle radiation but plenty of horizontal radiation.

Thirdly, Genesis gives us the general movement of the origin of geological strata and life forms. The six work-days are geologico-biological work days. We expect then the basic rocks to be azoic. We expect the simpler forms on the bottom layers. We expect the higher forms on the higher levels, and man the highest form on the highest level.

This presentation is, of course, limited by space, and thus somewhat sketchy but if fully worked out we believe that it would constitute a general interpretive concept that would replace the evolutionary one because it can account for all that evolution tries to account for, and then can go on and account for the things that evolution cannot. The reason for this is, we believe, that the basis of it, namely Genesis 1, is a divine revelation.

In closing we wish to point out that to indicate weaknesses and inconsistencies in evolution theory is all right but it does not go far enough. For example, in modern psychology there are serious objections to all the major schools of psychology yet the adherents to these various schools do not give up their convictions. Convictions are surrendered when a more unifying and integrating hypothesis is suggested and demonstrated. So, we as Christians must not think we have done our job by indicating the difficulties with evolutionary theory. We must go on and present clearly and factually the Christian interpretative principle in geology and biology. If we can show that this view has the maximum of internal consistency, and has a high degree of accuracy in material prediction, then we have really done something to the evolutionary theory. Until then we fight pretty much of a guerilla warfare that may sting but does not force a retreat.


DR. VOSKUYL: Thank you, Dr. Cowperthwaite, for reading this paper. Since the gentleman who wrote this paper is not present today, and it is not the best of Christian ethics to discuss someone else's paper behind his back, we perhaps should not discuss it. However, the following paper is so closely similar to it, that I think we shall postpone all discussion until that time.

I am sure that the Secretary of our group will extend to Prof. Ramm our appreciation for his splendid paper.