Science in Christian Perspective
Alfred C, Eckert
From: JASA 3 (June 1951): 22-28.
A talk delivered at Goshen College to the A.S.A. meeting sponsored by
Wheaton and Goshen College., April 7., 1951.
The subject for tonight is one that was difficult to prepare for a group Of this type. As you know., a good deal of the information available on Atomic Fission is classified and one is not free to discuss it. Therefore I intend to build most of the talk around a review of THE ATOMIC AGE AND THE WORD OF GOD by Wilbur Smith.
Permit me to begin by speaking a word of goodwill for the author of THIS AT011C AGE AND THE WORD OF GOD. in the most recent issue of the magazine Rio with which I believe you are all familiar., he has an extensive bibliography to which university and college students can refer for books they might want on various subjects. One of his classifications is "The Bible and Science." This is that he has to say about MODERN SCIENCE AND CHRISTIAN FAITH the publication of the A.S.A. "In my opinion this to the only satisfactory volume on this Important subject written in the last twenty years. Each chapter is by an authority in some field of science. A must book for all Christian students," fbis may be a bit beside the point as far as our main discussion is concerned tonight but his evaluation of MODERN SCIENCE AND CHRISTIAN FAIN is interesting to all A.S.A. members.
The book THIS ATOMIC AGE AND THE WORD OF GOD started as a sermon -which Wilbur Smith preached in 1945 or 1946. It was based on the passage II Peter 2:10-14. You probably have had that passage called to your attention especially in the last few years. II Peter 3:10, "But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise and the elements shall malt with fervent heat the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned UP." After the atomic bombs were dropped in the-last war and the news spread t hat verse of course became quite interesting to Christian people In many places. Wilbur Smith preached a sermon on it which was of sufficient interest that it was put out in pamphlet form and many thousand copies sold. During the time that those copies were selling he went to work and wrote this book pretty much around the sermon. According to the author's introduction his principal objectives of which we find two were: (1) to inspire the reader to preach the gospel and (2) to help the reader to be prepared to give a reason for the hope that is within him. These are, of course, very commendable objectives.
As he made up the book he was guided by several things which I would like to
read rather directly out of his introduction, First., the first question which he
attempts to answer in this publication is this: does the Bible throw any light upon
this hour in which we live?" He outlines how we have come into the Atomic Age and
are faced with many problems and various points of view. Many philosophies that we
have held seem very inadequate to the present time. "Does the Bible throw any
light upon this world in which we live?" Another objective or guiding principle is
found In his introduction. He states that In many cases Christians have found it
interesting to speculate on prophecy. Mr. Smith properly has very little time for
that sort of thing and he says this specifically "Date setting is for me anathema."
He mentions that during the past years he has written very little about prophecy and
says he has been kept from the nonsense of identifying Mussolini with anti-christ..
etc. In other words he emphasizes that he is not writing this book as a speculative
venture and Is not interested In speculating on questions of prophecy,
Third, he says this about his writing; "I shrink personally from long discussions of Biblical technicalities which cannot possibly have any relations to ones own convictions nor bearing upon one's conduct. What I have written I trust has been put to the test of a less of incessant activity." So he is trying to write a book that has some practical value rather than something that Involves a number of somewhat abstract technicalities.
Fourth, here I believe he states his background very concisely. "I have tried to rea& all that to Important of this enormous literature of the atomic bomb and the development of atomic energy with the exception of some of the more technical studies In the field of nuclear fission.
The foregoing things he has tried to do. He lists four things that he has definitely not tried to do in this volume - First., he did not attempt to write a history of the development of the atomic theory in the twentieth century, feeling of course that Is for someone else to do. Second) "I am not attempting to rehearse the story of Hiroshima and Bikini." Thlrd;_I am not attempting to bring my readers up-to-date on the discussion of the final control on atomic energy as they take place in the United Nations." And finalIy, "I am not proposing some plan for the control of atomic energy."
Therein are the things he is trying to do and the things he is not trying to do. Of most importance In this introduction, is the first question that he askes "Does the Bible throw any light on this hour in which we live?" As he develops the book that question probably stands above other things that he attempts to work out.
With regard to the general make-up of the book I might mention that it has 19 eh&pters.. 5 appendices and 3 Indexes. The chapters cover quite a variety of subjects. He starts, as we might expect, with more or less an orientation of the atomic age, its significance spheres of life that it effects, etc. He then goes back into history and traces the development of the concept of atoms from the early Greek philosophers. Following these philosophers there is a gap of about eighteen centuries, until the atomic idea became prominent again and takes up and traces Its development up to the beginning of this century, and briefly thereafter until the present. Remember, one of the things he did not try to do was trace its development through the present century. That becomes too highly technical.
Following this historical treatment comes the chapter in which was the original sermon. It is just a few pages of the present volume. In this chapter he discusses the verses from the second epistle of Peter.
After that comes a chapter in which he discusses a number of other peoples' ideas of the meaning of those verses. They are mainly of historical interest. They are ideas which were published before the release of atomic energy had been known.
In the remainder of the book, there are several chapters which for the moat part don't seem to have any great relationship one with the other.. certainly no sequence. We might think of them as a number of essays on various Biblical subjects and concepte that have some relation to atomic energy, A couple of examples are the chapter on Sodom and Gomarrah,, and the one on Wars and Rumors of Wars, etc. Finally, the last three chapters have a sequence of a sort. One of them points out the need ofthe human race for regeneration., and then the next chapter is entitled, "The time is short." The final chapter Is entitled "Victory Through Christ."
That briefly then to the content of tile book, but the style in which it is written should be appraised,, Hie style I would call philosophical. Philosophers might disagree with my use of the term$ but a philosophical writing I have generally found rather indirect.- it spends a good deal of time generalizing and qualifying statements before coming to the point. That Is my Impression of the style that Dr. Smith has used here, Also by Illustration of the style I might mention a writing technique. The second sentence In the first chapter has something like 128 words in it. The record length per sentence that I found In going through the book had something like 152 words in it, In other words the book Is not easy reading and Is In a style that you would find,, at least I found,. had to be read slowly and deliberately in order to get the continuity for what was being presented. (Of course, I do not count the words in every sentence I read; these very long sentences forced themselves on me).
Next in our discussion, I would like to give you what I call a sentence, condensation of the book., in other words each chapter boiled down to one sentence. In so doing we will try to give you that much of an Idea of the sequence and content of the book,
The discovery of atomic energy affects many spheres Of life and will determine the history of our world as no other single discovery.
It is most significant that writers seemed forced to go to the Bible for the phrases they feel compeled to use in connection with discussion of the impact of atomic energy on the course of civilization.
After the brilliant conclusions of the ancient philosophers,, nothing more was learned about atomic structure for about eighteen centuries.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century physicists broke away from the idea of four elements and the trend toward our present concept of elements began.
Every intelligent man certainly desires to know something of the structure of atoms and the meaning of nuclear fission in view of the great importance of the subject today.
Peter gives us a description of the character of the final conflagration.
Before the release of atomic energy the church assigned various interesting interpretations of II Peter 3:10,
That Peter by using the Greek word lanos Predicted the fission of uranium is an unjustified conclusion.
The international state will mean tyranny over men's souls., bodies and minds.
World were and atomic weapons drive men to Insist on world government which will bring a world ruler.
As the importance of the air for travel and communication in warfare becomes greater this age swiftly prepares for tbe final struggle between the Prince of the Power of the Air and the Lord of Lords.
Our Lord only wants talk of war as such and at that time predicts wars to the end.
Until 1945 men hiding in eaves and rocks in the mountains as described by John in the book of Revelation was hardly imaginable but it becomes a primary factor in protection from an attack of the atomic bomb.
It is doubtful if prior to 1945 a scientist has ever written an article with such a title as Dr. H.C. Urey's., "I Am A Frigbtened Man."
What God did to Sodom and Gomarrah is a type of greater judgment by fire,
A revival to bring about a regenerated humanity must derive from the Spirit of God.
The atomic bomb has altered the sneering attitude of many toward the possibility of divine judgment.
For victory over the world is in Christ as Creator, Conqueror and Consumator.
With that much about the book in general., I would like to turn next and look a little more carefully at several parts that I feel are of a special interest. Dr. Smith's definite Biblical approach to this subject is commendable. His approach Is illustrated especially in two chapters, one of which he entitled "Ware and 11umors of Wars." In that chapter he pointed out that the prophecy which our Lord made In connection with the Olivet discourse Is one that has been very much ignored and much misunderstood. At the time of the Olivet discourse our Lord made some prophecies relating to something that took place about forty years later (about A.D. 70)s the destruction of Jerusalem, Many people have been prone to assign all of that discourse to prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem, Dr. Smith points out the absurdity of this and also of course points out how Christ says that there will be wars and rumors of wars up to the time of His return which was not A.D. 70. He gives illustrations of some very amzing cases where commentators have just blatenly ignored that passage as they were commenting on the passage immediately preceding end following. He then presents some illustrations of absolute misinterpretation and cases of announcements that outstanding men have made which are utterly ridiculous in the face of these verses, In many cases., these were quite frequent especially at the turn of this century and even up to before 1939 many people thought we were heading toward an era of world peace.
Dr, Smith also points out the amazing knowledge that Christ had making this Prophecy because the Old Testament prophets had prophesied a time of peace to be coming in the future and of course Christ pointed out that the time of peace was not at hand even though he was called the Prince of Peace. Those prophecies had to be Interpreted in somewhat a different light, So he illustrates to me his Biblical Christian approach in departing from the wishful thinking that many held especially earlier In this century that we are headed for an era of world Peace at a time like this. It to not difficult today to take the side that Dr. Smith supports.
Another chapter in which the Biblical Christian view is very prominent is the one whi9b points-out the need for a regenerated humanity and points out that that need is not going to be attained through education and cultures etc. The required regeneration is available only through the Spirit of God and through the acceptance of Christ and His Gospel and the acceptance of Christ as a personal Savior from sin. He used the illustration of Germany, which was one of the best educated nations in the world and yet those people allowed their government to carry on some of the most beastly activity that the world has ever seen. This of course supports from Scriptural claim that regeneration must come from God and not from man's own efforts.
You certainly will be interested in knowing what was the content of the sermon which grew up to be a book. The sermon was mainly a discussion of the meaning of several words. Elements, dissolutions great noise and fervent heat. In the sermon Dr. Smith of course points out how an atomic explosion fits the general description of what Peter was describing many years ago and indicates that it is very possible that that is the prophesied end of the world, namely that the world will be destroyed by dissolution of the elements by actual atomic fission, etc,
The following is very fascinating because it reviews, as I mentioned before different Ideas that people had before the advent of atomic energy as to the meaning of these verses in II Peter. One of the very early church fathers in the second century interpreted that prophecy to refer to a fusion. He used the illustration as lead is malted in fire.. the earth would melt and would in that way dissolve. They say in the light of the release of atomic energy that something much more drastic than malting Is what to predicted here. There was another writer from the nineteenth century who vent to great length to explain how the final conflagration would be the result of atmospheric moisture decomposing and then recombining. You know hydrogen and oxygen eco decompose and then recombine again with this gnat violence which would make a great noise etc. To me this is an excellent example of the value of scientific investigation helping us to understand better what the Scriptures mean. We can't say dogmatically that Peter is predicting an atomic disintegration for the end of the world) but with a knowledge of atomic energy,, we certainly do have a much greater appreciation of the picture-he painted than these church fathers and writers of the past centuries bad since they had to try to picture such a conflagration in terms of things that they knew at that time.
There were three chapters that I picked out as being of special interest to me for various reasons. I would like to spend a little time on each of these.
The second chapter is entitled "The Atomic Bomb Demands Biblical Phrases." Dr. Smith pointed out that shortly after the release of atomic energy., as various people wrote their impressions and discussed It they were continually bringing in Biblical phrases to help express themselves. His first illustration was one in which he quoted the President of the United States as finishing up one of his chats with the remark that "May the God of peace keep us from what's ahead of us)" etc. "May the God of peace 1:rotect us," etc. Of course the "God of Peace" being a Biblical concept Dr. Smith very-appropriately pointed out that it was very inappropriate for us to call.-upon the God of peace to keep us out of trouble in the, future when we continually reject Him and reject His way and His world, In our United Nations meetings we don't even call upon Him for help2 yet the President gets up and expects the "God of Peace" to protect us in the future! There were many other Biblical phrases whose use Dr. Smith indicated.
Again., Dr. Smith illustrated his Biblical Chriatien approach in summing up the signficance of this use of Biblical teminology by saying that "of course many people take courage from the fact that the Bible had these allusions made to it." But he pointed out that in many, nearly all these cases., the allusions to Scripture very obviously were of such a nature that the people using them did not show any evidence of understanding their true meaning nor of understanding their context nor of understanding the scriipture, In some cases they almost bordered on blasphemy by the way they were used and he saw very little reason to take courage in that fact. He did indicate that you don't see many references to secular writers to help put across these concepts. The Scripture seems to be virtually the only writing that has phrases adequate to make these descriptions and that certainly puts a good deal of emphasis on the authenticity of the Scripture and its dignity, etc. This fact does not give any Indication to him that people are returning to the Scripture in a Biblical sense.
Then there comes the chapter that 'a Probably the most interest to us here. The Structure of the Atom and the Meaning Of Nuclear Fission." This chapter was a very great disappointment. It is very difficult for to understand why someone of the scholarship and scholarly standing of Dr. Smith) someone with the scholarly approach that he usually makes would write a chapter like this. He's not a scientist and he, makes no claim to be a scientist.. but in this chapter he is attempting to interpret science to people who are not technically minded, This to a difficult task for a scientist who knows his subject but the difficulties are multiplied for a layman. Dr. Smith In his treatment of this chapter gives very clear evidence of having himself a very muddled Idea of certain scientific concepts. He commits some errors that I'm sure a good high school teacher could have cleared up for him had he consulted and submitted the manuscript for appraisal. I repeats I simply can't understand why a man of his standing would jump Into a field that he knows he's not trained in, write a chapter on it and apparently publish it without having conferred with someone competent to check the material for specific errors. I went through the chapter and marked the things-that he revealed were not just clear to him.
He has a very muddled conception of the significance of atomic weights and atomic numbers. In one paragraph he mentions that all atoms of a particular element have the same weight, and then a subsequent paragraph he talks about isotopes with no Indication that he understands the meaning of the term. In his presentation of astronomically large numbers, he has made additional*errors. These are things that could easily happens and yet they would have been detected by any good high school teachers had such read the manuscript, I will say without question the trend of thought is not upset. If the errors had been corrected his trend of thought, his argument wouldn't have been changed a bit, The errors are in general that minor., but still it has the effect on the scientific reader of casting doubt on the writer's competence in other fields. It shook by confidence about what he has to say about other things when in a field where I can judge his accuracy., I find that he is not accurate. This was very disappointing and it is very unfortunate for a book that for the most part presents some very interesting material. It to unfortunate that we have in a, book of this quality a chapter like this that detracts from one's feeling that the book is written on a basis of good scholarship and good authority. one other error that he made that is a little bit hard for a chemist to forgive: he mentioned that the Manhattan project was a physics project. That's one that we chemists find very hard to swallow.
We turn now to what is a little more pleasant and commendable, a chapter dealing with Greek words from which Uranium. was derived. In the passage in Peter, this Greek word Uramis is used. It is obviously related to Uranium. Dr. Smith says that there have been people who pointed this out and said; "Now look here, Peter was really a lot smarter than you think. He not only pictured the world ending with an atomic explosion but he knew that Uranium was to be the explosive material." Dr. Smith takes the commendable stand of pointing out that such a conclusion is entirely unjustified. The first words he claims., is the word very frequently used for heavens. It was a very natural word to use in this particular place and probably the most logical word to use entirely aside from any considerations of "Uranium!' and "Uranus." He also further explains the naming of Uranus and Uranium. The naming of the planet Uranus I understand, was arrived at rather accidently. He allows the possibility that the Lord guided the people who named this element and named the planet after which this element was named. Perhaps He did guide them to have It that name but such looks very unlikely to Dr. Smith. I feel It is a very commendable stand for him to point out a case of almost 100 per cent speculation of prophecy.
Finally I wish to sum up my appraisal of the book as follows: I found it interest to read. it is inspirational. Dr. Smith summarizes various things in our atomic age and showed that the Scriptures do have a very definite application to the time in vh1ch we live. The Scripture is not out-moded as many of the writings that were prominent fifty years ago. The reading is difficult and the book is scientifically inaccurate in a number of places.
In closing it seems appropriate to list several books on atomic energy. These books contain everything that can be told that is with the exception of certain technical details that have been put out in various scientific monographs, The first one of course that I will mention is the famous report by H. D. Smythe entitled "Atomic Energy for Military Purposes" published in 1945 by the Princeton University Press, This was the first official release and a good half of it describes the history of the Manhattan project. The rest of it consists of cer tain scientific facts that can be told about atomic energy. The Smythe report is mainly of historic interest now because it has been superseded.
A book came out last year published by the Atomic Energy Comission amd handled through the Superintendent of Documents called "The Effects of Atomic Weapons." This was intended to be a book of information on which several defense authorities could base their plans for devising defenses against atomic attacks. More recently another official release by the Atomic Energy Commission written by Glasstone is entitled "Source Book of Atomic Energy." It's published by Standard Publishers and Is available at a remarkably low price.
Thank you very much Dr. Eckert for this interesting discussion. Are there any questions?
Mr. Kratze, Dr. Eckert pointed out that the author vent into the field of science to prove the truths of the Bible, not knowing science. What about scientists who try to teach the Bible?
Dr. Eckert: Your question I think is a bit rhetorical. You anticipate the answer. We all know the answer of course. Scientists are not theologians and If we try to write on theological subjects we probably will be open to a great deal of criticism. I would emphasize again that if any of us were going to do such a thing, I suggest we go to a theologian to check our manuscript to see that It makes sense before we publish it, We might take a lesson from the mistakes theologians have mad4 in the field of science and see that we don't make the saw mistakes in the field of theology, Does that answer your question?
Mr. Klotz: But to it Possible for us to-get up before a scientist and say something about the Bible?
Dr. Ackert: You mean is it possible for us to understand the Bible? Yes., If we spend time-on it. I realize that it takes a life time to assimilate some things, The important things about the Scripture are open to those of us who seek the Lord and seek His revelation to us. The fundamental fact is that man is a lost sinner and we need