Science in Christian Perspective



R. L. Mixter, Ph.D.
Professor of Zoology
Wheaton College, Wheaton, Ill.

From: JASA, 2, 1(1950): 20-23.

Scientists are not forced by their science into any particular religion. Goldschmidt1 has a man from Mars descend to inspect human beings and decide what significance there is to the differences in human structure. If this Martian should look at the religious beliefs of scientists he would find them as varied as in one of the graduate schools I attended. The head of the department was a Unitarian. The nature study teacher embraced the Catholic faith and the specialist on conservation appeared to have no religious beliefs at all. Across the campus a professor of engineering was a fundamentalist. Each of these men was acquainted with the same scientific method of induction and had the college library at his disposal. Science neither makes one religious nor keeps him from religion.

Therefore, one may examine the controversies which have occurred between science and religion unhindered by a "weight of opinion" held by scientists. The scientific method is the Scriptural method. "Prove all things; hold fast to that which is good.2 The scientific method is that of observing the data, experimenting with phenomena, correlating the findings and drawing conclusions from them.

In spite of their use of the same method scientists may draw different conclusions. In the department of anatomy of a university in the city of Chicago, a famous anatomist and his pupil believed that the lining of the lung is a very thin membrane formed by cells touching one another, derived from the inner germ layer. In the same building were other anatomists who held that the blood capillaries were only partially covered by cells of the middle gem layer. Both of these groups of men had the same technique at their disposal but held to contrasting beliefs.

Outside their fields of research, scientists have opinions on many matters. Consider the variants in political ideas among university teachers. Not all of them adopt the same forms of recreation. In worship they bow before the God of the Christian or reverence eternal forces and matter. As scientists they try to leave the spiritual forces out of reckoning and yet in drawing their conclusions they speculate at length. A recent book on processes in evolution illustrates this. Simpson3 holds that only physical hypotheses should be used in scientific work but is willing to construct these guesses on data which he admits are inadequate. He does not rule out the spiritual in fields where the physical has so far failed to explain natural phenomena. Another famous biologist believes that "we are the intellectual and spiritual children of .... that most influential character in all history, Jesus Christ.4 He does not believe that the world was formed by chance. He cannot believe that the world and man are the products of pure accidents.

Because scientists have such differing beliefs in their own specialties and in every sphere of life we should not hesitate in our study of problems to follow the advice of one of the greatest of modern scientists whose brogue has him put a profound truth in this expression, "Vat iss de evidence?"

1. Goldschmidt, Material Basis of Evolution, 1940. p. 121
2. 1 Thessalonians 5:21
3. Simpson, Tempo and Mode in Evolution, 1944. p. 76
4. Conklin, Man, Real and Ideal, 1943, pp. 181, 190

*Used by courtesy Young People's Paper, published by American Sunday-School Union, copyrighted 1950.
In science. a theory is satisfactory if it is consistent within itself and explains a group of phenomena. To me one of the chief Christian evidences is the ability of Christianity to meet the needs of man. If he needs comfort there is the 23rd Psalm. He is challenged by Hebrews 11. Some of his curiosity is satisfied by God's answers to Job. He receives conviction from the apostle Paul and derives his character from Christ Himself. The Christian Scriptures consistently meet the needs in all phases of man's personality.

Consider some of the facts of Biology which are in harmony with great doctrines of Scripture, First, organisms are machines. Carlson and Johnson call their textbook of physiology THE MACHINERY OF THE BODY. They say, "the working hypothesis of the biologist is that eventually the phenomenon of life will be explained in terms of physics and chemistry."5 Whether their ultimate goal will be realized is questionable but many features of body activity are so explained.

In 1801 Paley argued that if one observes mechanical features in the body a machinist is needed to explain them. Where there is a contrivance like a watch there must have been a contriver. The more we find the body to be a machine, the more we are indicating there must have been a machinist greater than the body in order for the body to be produced. One of the best sellers in 1947 shows us that in order to get by chance combination one of the simple proteins of which the body is composed it would be necessary to have 1 followed by 243 zeros years. This is the beginning.6 Not only must the proteins be formed but in addition there must be enzymes to control them and cellular organization to give them stability. It may safely be stated that by the activities of pure chance there is no chance that life could have been spontaneously generated. Morrison has similarly argued in his book, MAN DOES NOT STAND ALONE, which was reviewed in the Reader's Digest of December 1946 under the title, "Seven Reasons Why a Scientist Believes in God."

We see then that the facts of biology are consistent with our first fundamental: there is a purposeful, intelligent Creator.

A second important fact in Biology is that organisms vary.. Creatures are not confined to fixed types. The earliest human family has produced "all races that dwell under Heaven." These races are of one blood. The blood groups so important in blood transfusions are found in all races. If the phrase "of one blood" refers to germinal potencies it is very apt for any race may breed with any other and produce fertile offspring.

Paleontology also indicates that human beings have always been human beings. Franz Weidenreich stated that all fossil men belong to the genus Homo.7 present day human beings are not all alike nor were all fossil men like present day human beings ,in all respects, but all are human in the essential characteristics of structure and .behavior~

A similar situation exists in animals. Within a group of animals such as the family of horses there is indication that there has been some change from one form to another. It appears reasonable that the may have had four toes on a front foot, a modern horse has only one. The first horse appeared to have teeth adapted to a browsing diet; today's horses are definitely of the grazing type.

5. Carlson and Johnson., The Machinery of the Body, 1941, p. 4
6. du Nouy, Human Destiny, Chap. 3.
7. Science, Vol. 104, No. 2709, 1946, p. 516

But all this change is within a limited group of animals. There is no fossil to close the gap between supposed ancestors of horses and the first horses. It is also true that there are "systematic deficiencies of record" between all comparable groups of animals and plants.8

The science of heredity adds the same type of conclusion. It is possible to make crosses within a species as in human crosses; between species as the mating of horse and ass; between genera like the crossing of the cabbage and radish and even between members of different families and orders as seen in the cross of killifish by the mackerel. But not one has ever seen the result of an attempted cross between such widely separated animals as the members of different classes such as reptiles and birds. As one of my university professors put it, "the answer to the origin of different classes of animals is outside of the field where genetics can make a contribution." We see, therefore, that although there has been some variation within the limits of the minor groupings of animals there has been no change demonstrated from one major group to another. This is in harmony with the Scriptural idea that God created the great sea monsters, the winged birds and the swarms of living creatures of the water after their kind and created man in His own image.

There is a third phenomenon of Biology which reflects on a miracle. It is called parthenogenesis, which means the production of an animal from only one parent. Gregory Pincus received credit for much of the research in this field. His work was popularized a few years ago in Collier's by the title of an article on rabbit production, "No Father to Guide Them" Pincus operated upon female rabbits, by cooling stimulated the tubes down which the eggs were descending and let the animals come to term. A rabbit was born without a male parent.

One hesitates to compare this with the Virgin Birth which is the greatest of the miracles and yet the possibility of its occurrence may not seem so remote because of the demonstration that even mammals may have offspring without fathers.

Even miracles need not be inconceivable. A speaker in our chapel remarked "if the Bible said a tadpole swallowed Jonah, I would believe it." This appears to me to be asking one to believe something inconceivable, to accept something that cannot be imagined. By contrast a miracle is not an impossibility; it is the result of an Unusual Cause who does not distort nature to produce His results. Animal parthenogenesis suggests that the miracle of the Virgin Birth is within the realm of the possible. Thus a third great fundamental of our faith can no longer be questioned by biological laws. God has stepped into men's 'shoes in the person of Christ to reveal Himself to us and bring us back to Himself.

A final observation from Biology is this: all complex organisms die. The material of which they are composed disintegrates but we believe that the body of man encompasses a mind. The body came from an extremely minute speck of living material formed by a union of cells from each parent. Through this tiny bridge the hereditary characters of the parents are passed on to the offspring. Morrison said a thimble would hold all of the hereditary determiners necessary to produce all humanity now living. If the physical contribution to man's person demands so little material, it is possible that the entrance of mind into man requires no physical bridge. This was Paley's reasoning in his famous work on Natural Theology.

If so little substance is used in the early formation of a person, may the spirit not leave the body without the aid of any material? The body.dies and decays,

8. Simpson, op. cit., p. 107

we describe the changes as we can observe them. What happens to the spirit we cannot see. Vernon Kellog remarked that we describe the before change conditions but the after change conditions may be the most important. To some biologists the only immortality is the passing on of our hereditary characteristics to succeeding generations, plus any contributions we have made to society.9 But if so small a speck of matter is necessary to maintain biological continuity, the Creator can provide spiritual continuity without any matter. Thus we conclude "Dust thou art, to dust returnest Was not spoken of the soul."

Students of nature should remain confident that the facts of their research will fit into the pattern the Bible outlined for the formation and preservation of living beings.

9. Conklin, op. cit., 1943, p. 179

Comments by Editor:

Paragraph 2. "The scientific method is the Scriptural method." This is very good, but would be more forceful if amplified and emphasized in a paragraph or two.

In regard to the miracle, it seems to me that the reflection on the miracle is worthy of some more reflection. The Virgin Birth is the Great miracle, and I doubt if we make much of a contribution of providing an analogous occurrence or a mechanism which is purely within the realm of the natural. Sooner or later in our Christian religion as it is centered around Christ, we must not only face but triumphantly champion the supernatural, the miraculous. With Machen and others it seems to me that the proper time is at the Virgin Birth rather than at the wedding feast or the resurrection only.